On the care and feeding of Cast Iron Mogwai

I made a rather silly error with one of my cast iron skillets the other day, so I had to spend some time repairing it.  While I was doing this, I reflected on the process, and I thought I’d share it with The Internet.  I have a set of Lodge cast iron cookware I got on overstock.com, and I’m completely in love with it.  I get better heat distribution than I have with any other pan, and the durability and quality are superb.  Additionally, I hate plastic and rubber cooking utensils, so the ability to use quality metal stuff is another big plus for me.  Cast iron by itself is a very absorbent and sticky cooking surface, so cast iron is “seasoned” or “cured,” meaning it has a layer of oil baked onto its surface.  This layer prevents foods from sticking to the pan, and also imparts a bit of flavor.  This layer is easy to restore if you make a mistake, as I did, and damage it, making cast iron superior to all the non-stick cookware out there.  You can’t put the Teflon back on your pan. 

Here are some things to know about cast iron:

-Don’t get it wet.  In this way, cast iron pans are like Mogwai (though in no other way.  Feeding them after midnight and bright lights are OK).  Water is denser than oil, so it will sink down into the pan, lifting out the layer of seasoning.  This isn’t to say that you can’t cook with a little water, but don’t make rice or pasta in a cast iron pan.  You can also use small amounts (and I mean SMALL) when cleaning it if  something’s stubbornly stuck to the pan, but don’t allow water to rest on your cast iron, and NEVER soak it.

-Never, ever (ever), use soap on a cast iron pan.  It dissolves the layer of oil faster than anything, leaving you with a cooking surface stickier than a Congressman’s fingers.

-Scrape, don’t scrub!  This is the best way to clean your cast iron.  Take your metal spatula (or a soup spoon if you don’t have one) and scrape up the remains of whatever you last cooked on the pan.  Then use a paper towel or dry washcloth to wipe up the leftover oil.  This method will leave your cast iron as good as new.  If you’re worried about bacteria, once you scrape and wipe off the pan, put it on a hot burner for a minute or two.  The heat will kill anything left on the pan.

-Use it often!  Not only is it superior to anything else out there, the more you use your cast iron, the better it will be!  Cooking with your cast iron adds to the layer of oil, just more slowly than the seasoning method I’ll detail below.  After a couple years of proper use, you can have a surface so well cured, you don’t even need oil!

In the event that you make a mistake (like I did on Saturday,) repairing your cast iron’s seasoning is easy, and is the work of no more than a couple of hour.  Here’s what to do:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F/ 200 degrees C
  2. Scrape the surface of your cast iron, just like you would after using it.  Make sure there’s nothing stuck to the pan.  If you’ve gotten it wet, it’ll likely be rusty.  Use a damp scouring pad (not one with soap) and scrub at the rust spots until they’re mostly gone.  You might not be able to eradicate it completely, but that’s ok.
  3. With a paper towel, rub a small amount of shortening, lard, or cooking oil onto the surface of the pan.  What you want is a shiny surface.  You don’t want to be able to see any pools of oil, or any white streaks of lard or shortening.  If you do, these will drip onto the floor of your oven, definitely making unpleasant smelling smoke, and just possibly causing a fire.
  4. Place your cast iron cooking-surface down into the oven.  Leave it there for an hour.
  5. Turn off your oven, and allow the cast iron to cool still inside.  This will probably take another hour.
  6. Once the cast iron is cool enough to touch, use another paper towel and wipe off any excess oil that remains on the cooking surface.  If you skip this step, the cast iron can become sticky to the touch from the tacky oil.  No Bueno.
  7. Repeat, if you want/need to.  You can do this all day, if you want, and it’ll only help your cast iron.  Unless you did some serious damage to the pan, though, once should be enough.

I hope this has been helpful!  Comment with any questions, or just to rave about your cookware.  Enjoy!


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